Monday, April 27, 2009

Why nuclear power is on the big no-no list for now

Alright, there's been quite the campaign of late to bring nuclear energy to Alberta, predominantly to power Alberta's already over-extended industrial sector, and I think I must point out that this is absolutely, completely, without a shadow of a doubt, total stupidity.

The idea is that the water flow from the Peace river will be enough to operate a CANDU reactor (that is, Deuterium - Uranium - the materials they use for nuclear fission; the CAN stands for the fact it's Canadian made) which will provide power for oil sands operation with no greenhouse gas emissions.

However, greenhouse gas emissions are generated throughout the process. The mining of uranium, as well as the purification of Deuterium (a heavy isotope of water used in the fission reaction) are both heavy in greenhouse gas production. This does not include the greenhouse gases generated in moving the various nuclear fuels from province to province.

A fission reaction occurs when you throw neutrons at an atom to break it apart, and you capture the energy released by that atom. A nuclear bomb is essentially an uncontrolled reaction.

All this is fine and dandy, but where did fission reactions occur naturally, before physicists figured them out?

Well, that would be the surface of the sun, about 92 million miles away.

Stars are gigantic atom smashers. They sit there, orbiting the cosmic center of our galaxy (a black hole, awesomely enough) more or less digesting atoms as simple as hydrogen and as complex as the rest of them millions of times a minute, bursting energy out in the form of heat, light and radiation.

92 million miles away, on a very large rock covered in water, that energy is enough to keep the Earth warm enough to sustain life.

The waste of a nuclear reactor has to be stored under hundreds of liters of water for five years to prevent melting through the bedrock, which needs to be very solid to withstand the intense heat of a fission reaction (again, surface of the sun). After that, the waste needs to be stored for an additional 5,000 years deep underground before it is believed it will be safe to recycle into the biosphere.

5,000 years ago, the Egyptian and Sumerian civilizations were in their infancy. The first pyramids had not been built yet. If Julian James' work "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" is to be believed, consciousness hadn't even developed in humans yet.

5,000 years is roughly 250 generations.

To suggest that we, as a people, have the right to burden our descendants with the waste of a few fleeting moments of prosperity is preposterous, especially when you consider that we'd be doing it to avoid burdening our descendants with the waste of a few fleeting moments of prosperity.

If oil sands production is so important, there has to be a less permanent means of acquiring the energy to fuel it. Even hydroelectric, with it's habitat/farmland flooding tendency, would be less devastating in the grand scheme of nature than a nuclear plant.

If you agree with me, or even if you disagree with me, you should take this link to the Alberta government's public survey and tell the government what you think. Don't believe me. Do the research yourself. Examine as many sources as possible. Weigh the arguments.

We're talking a decision that's going to result in over 5,000 years of commitment. This is something to be taken seriously.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Just buy GM already, Barack

With recent news that Barack Obama's administration asked GM CEO Rick Wagoner to step down as part of negotiations for an additional bailout (after already receiving over $12 billion dollars in tax dollars already), and since GM's own auditor has said that the company cannot survive as it currently exists, it is beginning to seem a bit redundant to keep GM as a privately traded corporation. It also seems apparant that the old market addage of 'laissez-faire' was really just a fancy line to pacify the workforce; the grand kings of capitalism are perfectly happy to accept government assistance and be propped up if needed. The US government should simply buy-out GM's shares and run it at a loss while it restructures the company. It would probably be cheaper than a couple years of continual bailouts as is currently being devised.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm perfectly down with government wasting my tribute on big statues, art films, building projects, science grants, etc. Things that can't and really shouldn't be making it on the market. That's fine and dandy; it's what government is there to do. But let's just examine what has been more or less implied in our rather multiple personalities oriented society.

The consumer has essentially failed, by not providing enough capital to keep the market in function. This is primarally because the market, being gluttonous in nature, will eventually self destruct if left to its own devices. Anyone who has ever owned a fat cat can attest to this.

The institutions involved and essentially determining these outcomes can't really be blamed, since they're institutions filled with people. The people working in the institutions can't really be at fault either; they simply fit into their institutional roles, doing exactly what they were paid to do and responding accordingly. If a CEO of one of the big 3 auto had decided to switch to totally green cars on his own accord, he probably would have been fired by the shareholder's association for damaging their stock.

The problem is the way this free market society is set up, eventually the market gets so big and expensive to maintain that the society can't maintain it anymore. The unavoidable collapse is then quite intense.

So now, since the consumer couldn't afford the market anymore, the market has gone to the government, which is taking from the taxpayer. Massive deficits are being reapped (is it me or does the White House have an essentially infinite budget?) to keep these private organizations alive.

What's basically happened is that the 'free' market wasn't 'free' at all. Since the taxpayer and the consumer are the exact same person, the corporate institutions are getting the money you get up and spend 8 hours a day earning whether you wanted to give it to them or not!

If these private organizations are so important to the continental infrastructure (and they are) then government should do the responsible thing and take over these organizations so it can at least waste public money the way public money should be wasted.

Canadians are actually fairly used to this idea; both federal and provincial governments have created and/or bought and eventually sold corporations for most of Canada's history. The formation of Liquor Boards throughout the nation and the dissolution of them in Alberta is an example. Anyone remember Ed-Tel and AGT, both government corporations that were sold off and formed the domineering Telus?

Canadian National Railways (which more or less is the backbone of Canadian industry) was formed as a crown corporation after the federal government bought out several bankrupt railways and reformed them into CN. In 1995 the Federal Liberals under Jean Chretien privatized the company, and it is now traded internationally.

If GM is going to survive as a North American institution, it needs to do things that it cannot do legally as a privately traded company. It needs to run at a loss. It needs to restructure itself from the ground up. No megacorporation can actually do this without facing massive lawsuits (far worse than environmental infractions, sadly.)

Bush II already demonstrated that the President of the United States currently has the power to do whatever he wants, and most of the western nations will tag along and Congress cannot stop him. So just do it and save everyone the trouble, it'll still be cheaper than Iraq's going to turn out to be with far more popular responses. It's not like the government can't re-privitize GM at a later date when the venture is actually profitable.

Just buy GM already, Barack.